Judge rejects GOP challenge, says Arkansas House candidate eligible

Morgan Lee Wiles
Morgan Lee Wiles

A Republican lawsuit challenging the eligibility of a Democratic state House candidate was thrown out of court Thursday for lack of evidence.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen concluded an almost two-hour hearing by saying that the Republicans had proved that Morgan Lee Wiles had actually exceeded the yearlong residency standard set by the Arkansas Constitution.

"The evidence shows Mr. Wiles has resided [in the district] since 2016," Griffen said.

The residency issue is also the basis for a Democratic Party-backed suit challenging state House Republican leader Marcus Richmond's eligibility to run for office.

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Mary McGowan will consider whether Richmond has lived the requisite time in Gravelly. Richmond has represented House District 21, which includes parts of Garland, Montgomery, Perry, Polk, Sebastian, Scott and Yell counties, since 2014. He's being challenged by Gravelly Democrat Stele James in the November election.

Griffen's decision came after hearing wide-ranging testimony from Wiles and Republican Party Executive Director Sarah Jo Reynolds that touched on Wiles' dislike of well water; his relationship with his girlfriend; how his father came to own the house across the street; the distance between Piney and Hot Springs; and how Facebook works.

Evidence included voter records, a speeding ticket, property-tax records, Wiles' driver's license and some of his Facebook posts. Attorney Chris Burks with the state Democratic Party called on the judge to dismiss the lawsuit after the Republicans had rested their case.

Even considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the Republicans, they did not prove that Wiles had not met the residency requirement, Burks said.

"They have no evidence to show he's moved out or moved into the district," Burks told the judge. "The evidence is he's been in more years" than required.

The suit, filed last week, claimed Wiles had not lived in House District 18 long enough to qualify to run for a seat on the state House of Representatives. Wiles, a property developer and window manufacturer, is challenging state Rep. Richard Womack, the Republican Arkadelphian who has represented the region since 2013. The nominal plaintiff was 58-year-old Travis Burton of Arkadelphia, who did not attend the hearing.

To be a candidate, Wiles must have lived in the central Arkansas district, which includes portions of Clark, Dallas, Hot Spring and Garland counties, since November, a full year before the upcoming general election. The judge said the evidence showed that Wiles has been a resident since 2016.

Wiles said he lives in Mountain Pine, which is in the district. He acknowledged that he'd used other addresses to receive mail out of convenience, since Mountain Pine doesn't have home delivery. He said that his voter registration hasn't always reflected his residence. He told the judge that he had not updated his registration until after the lawsuit was filed.

Wiles testified that he considers himself a lifelong resident of Mountain Pine, although military service and an unsuccessful marriage had drawn him away at times. He has deep ties to the community, coming from a large family that also owns 54 percent of the town, Wiles told the judge.

Metro on 04/27/2018

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